Methyl bromide decisions on hold

The Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol Treaty concluded their week-long meeting in Nairobi, Kenya on Nov. 14 without reaching a final decision on whether methyl bromide (MBr) will be available to U.S. fruit and vegetable growers in 2005.

The parties did agree to hold a special meeting in late winter to continue the discussions.

In late October, the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) of the United Nations Environment Program gave tentative approval for critical uses of methyl bromide in 2005. The final decision, however, is up to the parties.

One of the sticking points has been over how much MBr can be granted for Critical Use Exemption. The U.S. application for critical use was for 39 percent of the 1991 levels of MBr. However, since the treaty already has reduced production to 30 percent of those levels, several nations, led by the European Union, have argued that critical use exemptions over 30 percent should not be granted.

TEAP made recommendations at four levels in their report. For each application, they either ruled that: 1) there was not enough information to make a decision; 2) the application was denied; 3) they recommended the application for approval; or 4) they noted that the applicant requested critical use.

The fourth category also has prompted controversy. Some nations interpret that to mean that TEAP recommends approval but doesn't really understand why it is needed. Other nations interpret it to mean the application should be denied.

Several groups filed applications in 2002 through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting Critical Use Exemption to continue the use of methyl bromide beyond 2004. The bulk of U.S. applications regarding fruits and vegetables came from California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan and a consortium of Southeastern states including North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Six applications for critical use exemption in 2005 were submitted in September, 2002, for Georgia vegetable producers. The applications were submitted by the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association and were prepared by GFVGA in cooperation with University of Georgia vegetable Extension specialists.

After review by EPA, applications were combined with applications from other states and submitted by crop sector to the Methyl Bromide Technical Options Committee (MBTOC). The TEAP branch of that committee provided a tentative ruling to allow use of the entire quantity of methyl bromide submitted by EPA. The application for 2006 already has been prepared and was submitted in August, 2003.

The quantities and acreage requested for each of Georgia's six applications are listed in the accompanying table.

The Georgia applications were based on these particular crops being the first crop in a two- or three-crop system in each fumigation cycle. The acreages only represent those acres of each crop that are produced using plastic mulch with drip irrigation.

Georgia's applications were based on the premise that there is no alternative to methyl bromide that is technically feasible for the control of yellow and purple nutsedge. While it was acknowledged that Georgia also uses MBr for the control of nematodes and soil-borne diseases, the team could not refute the feasibility of 1, 3-dichloropropene (Telone), metam sodium and chloropicrin for these problems.

The second application included two additional factors. The Telone label prohibits the use of that product on soils over-laying Karst geology. Anywhere from 8 percent to 26 percent of these crops are produced on such soils. Also, labeled waiting periods between application and planting with Telone and metam interfere with timely planting of these crops, particularly in the fall.

The amounts proposed by EPA covered 100 percent of the amount requested for the cucurbit crops but only 30 percent to 40 percent of that requested for the solanaceous crops. This was due to the fact that EPA misinterpreted Georgia's assertion of a 30 percent to 40 percent yield loss without MBr to be 30 percent to 40 percent of our acres would be affected. Obviously, that is not the same thing. This has been brought to the attention of the EPA representatives, and they will be providing a forum to work out errors before final allocations are made.

MBTOC's initial ruling on the 2005 application was that EPA did not provide enough information for them to complete their decision. Since that time, EPA has submitted a response to MBTOC to provide that information. Most of the information that MBTOC requested was in the application packages that Georgia submitted to EPA. However, the Georgia team provided input to EPA regarding their response.

EPA held its final stakeholder meeting on the allocation process on Aug. 15, 2003. While it seems likely that MBTOC will allocate some level of critical use exemption, the allocation process has not been finalized nor have the allocated amounts to individual applicants. The allocation process will be decided by EPA in the coming months. They are considering several allocation procedures, some of which would not be favorable for Georgia growers. The most favorable model is the QPS (Quarentine Pre-Shipment) model which is an established method that has been used for QPS allocation in the past. This would be the easiest method to implement and likely would put allocation in the hands of distributors.

The failure of the parties to reach a decision at the meeting in Kenya leaves U.S. vegetable producers in limbo regarding 2005 for another few months. It does seem likely that the ultimate decision will result in continued production at the 30-percent level in 2005. However, this will ultimately be a decrease in usage since stockpiles of MBr continue to dwindle. Given the lack of progress in Nairobi and the conflicts that still exist among parties to the treaty, the use of methyl bromide for 2005 is still uncertain.

There is currently no alternative to MBr that is technically or economically feasible for producers to use. It is estimated that the loss of methyl bromide for use by Georgia vegetable growers would result in $120 million in lost production.

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